Paper Shredders, Beware!: Sam Buell '87

By Chad Galts / November / December 2002
June 28th, 2007
If you're a lawbreaker, Sam Buell '87 doesn't care whether you wear a tie and use a paper shredder or dress casually and use gun-toting goons. As a trial lawyer with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston, Buell has gotten convictions against some of the biggest names in organized crime, including Whitey Bulger and his Winter Hill gang. Now his sights are set on Enron.

In January 2002 Buell was recruited for the U.S. Department of Justice task force established to, as he says, "vigorously investigate all issues related to Enron's collapse." The path to Enron winds through its Arthur Andersen accountants, however, so Buell's first six months on the job were at the helm of the group prosecuting the firm for destroying potentially damning documents. The trial, which took place in Houston in May, involved both familiar and strange territory for Buell. The novelty, he says, came in the media interest. "This was the first big trial after all the corporate misconduct stuff to really hit the press," he says. "So it was their perfect storm." Andersen had taken out full-page ads in national newspapers, organized protests by its workers outside the courthouse, and hired a flamboyant attorney who held daily press conferences and defended his client as though reading for an episode of Matlock. "We were up against one of the biggest, most resourceful multinational accounting firms in the world," Buell says. "They were able to mount a very resourceful defense." But Buell, the lead prosecutor, was up to the task. On June 15 Arthur Andersen was convicted of obstruction of justice.

In the end, Buell says, prosecuting upper-class embezzlers and working-class extortionists has proven to be surprisingly similar. Both, he adds, "involve coming to grips with cases that involve very complex facts that stretch over very long periods of time." Large numbers of witnesses, massive piles of documents and evidence, and loads of lawyers form an extremely complicated puzzle that a good lawyer must make intelligible for the average juror. "These are the cases most prosecutors enjoy working on the most," Buell says, "but they're also the hardest."

Buell marvels at the turns his career has taken. "I went from organized crime, murder, and extortion," he says, "to white-collar crime. It keeps you fresh." With the Andersen verdict behind them, Buell and the rest of the Enron task force have now turned their attention back to the company that brought them together in the first place. He can't comment on the group's investigation, but Buell does promise that "there's going to be a lot more activity on this case."

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November / December 2002